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Friday, 31 October 2014

Poll shows NHS is top issue in Rochester & Strood

An exclusive poll conducted by Survation for Unite in the constituency of Rochester and Strood reveals that the NHS is clearly the most important issue for voters at the forthcoming by-election.

The poll of 1012 people in the constituency also showed that, excluding those who said ‘don’t know’, a significant majority of voters (76 per cent) opposed the inclusion of the NHS in the EU-US trade deal called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and want David Cameron to use his veto in Europe to prevent the NHS falling into the scope of this agreement. 37 per cent of voters considered the quality of local NHS hospitals and GP services in Medway to be the most important issue for them and their family at the moment. Concern over immigration trailed by 12 points (at 25 per cent) compared to voter concerns over the NHS.

Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey said: “The future of our NHS is what really matters to voters and their families in Rochester and Strood and it’s going to be what really matters to voters at the next general election. When most voters learn that the NHS is at risk of irreversible privatisation because of the trade deal called TTIP they expect David Cameron to act and be prepared to veto the deal. This is not an isolated poll, a majority of voters across a number of marginal Tory constituencies all want the government to protect the NHS from TTIP. Britain won’t be fooled by vague assurances over the NHS, the people of this country do not believe it’s right for the NHS to be part of an American trade deal. It’s ‘the party that fights most for the NHS’ not ‘the party that fights most against immigration’ that will win the next general election.”

The deal, known as TTIP, is being negotiated 'behind the closed doors', between EU bureaucrats and delegates from the United States. It is the largest bilateral trade deal ever negotiated and threatens to make privatisation of the NHS irreversible by giving the profits of corporations precedence over national lawmakers. TTIP would grant American multinationals, or any firm with American investors, the power to sue the government if it ever attempted to take privatised health services back into public ownership.

A poll, carried out by Survation in August this year, questioned over 2,600 voters across 13 marginal Conservative-held seats. Respondents were asked if health should be excluded from the deal and if David Cameron should use Britain’s veto. Across all constituencies 68 per cent said they opposed the inclusion of the NHS as part of the deal. Opposition was highest from those planning on voting for Labour or UKIP, 78 per cent and 77 per cent respectively, and just 23 per cent of Conservative voters supported inclusion.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

500/1 for Brad Pitt to play Nigel Farage in C4 Drama

Channel 4's plans for a drama based on a UKIP government has sparked speculation on which actor will play the lead role of Nigel Farage, according to Ladbrokes.

The bookies have installed Michael Sheen as the early 3/1 favourite based on his well received interpretations of Tony Blair and Brian Clough among others. Other big names in the betting include Benedict Cumberbatch at 25/1 and Stephen Fry at 33/1.

Matthew Shaddick of Ladbrokes said: "Sheen fits the bill perfectly but if they want a hapless Prime Ministerial performance, Hugh Grant has some form at 33/1. We suspect Brad Pitt might have more suitable projects lined up, so 500/1 is on offer "

Ladbrokes' latest betting - Who will play Farage?
3/1 Michael Sheen
5/1 John Hanna
10/1 Martin Clunes
10/1 David Morrissey
16/1 David Tennant
16/1 Hugh Bonneville
25/1 Benedict Cumberbatch
25/1 Colin Firth
33/1 Stephen Fry
33/1 Hugh Grant
50/1 Martin Freeman
50/1 Nigel Harman
50/1 Simon Pegg
50/1 Steve Coogan
66/1 Kenneth Branagh
66/1 Nicholas Lyndhurst
100/1 Eddie Izzard
100/1 Russell Brand
500/1 Brad Pitt

Poll Shock: Labour facing annihilation in Scotland

After what has been a dreadful few months for the Labour party in Scotland, culminating with the Labour Johann Lamont resigning as party leader, criticising Ed Miliband's leadership style and treating the Scottish Labour party as a "branch office" an Ipsos-Mori poll for STV puts the party on course to win just four seats in May. The timing couldn't be worse for Mr Miliband as he is due in Scotland tonight for a gala dinner with the Scottish Labour party.

One of the candidates standing to take over from Johann Lamont, Jim Murphy, launched his campaign today by pledging to end the streak of "losing Labour" in Scotland, this poll shows Mr Murphy is on course to lose his Renfrewshire East seat to the Scottish Nationalists.

The seat projections shows the only Scottish Labour MPs who would survive would be Gordon Brown in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Willie Bain in Glasgow North East, Tom Clarke in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill,and Ian Davidson in Glasgow South West. The Liberal Democrats would also lose all but one of their seats, with only Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael in Orkney and Shetland surviving and high-profile victims including Danny Alexander and Charles Kennedy. The Scottish Tories facing another wipe out north of the boarder.

The Ipsos-Mori/STV Poll figures:
Scottish National Party 52%
Scottish Labour 23%
Scottish Conservatives 10%
Scottish Liberal Democrats 6%
Scottish Greens 6%
United Kingdom Independence Party 2%
Others 1%

Seat projection:
Scottish National Party 54 +48
Scottish Labour 4 -37
Scottish Liberal Democrats 1 -10
Scottish Conservatives 0 -1
Scottish Greens 0
United Kingdom Independence Party 0
Other 0

Meaning the electoral map of Scotland would look like this:

Image courtesy of Britain elects

Harriet Harman attacks Coalition actions "too little, too slowly" on telecommunications

Labour's Deputy Leader Harriet Harman has attacked the Coalition Government's "complacency on connectivity" and sets out Labour's "consumer-friendly agenda".

Harriet Haman today criticised the Government's complacency:

  • On broadband rollout, where the Government schedule has slipped;
  • On mobile coverage where targets will not be met;
  • On digital inclusion where there is no effective plan; and
  • On consumer protection and child protection where actions are too little, slowly.
Harriet Harman, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, speaking at the ninth Annual Parliament and Broadband Conference said: "It's impossible to overstate the importance of the internet, to every business and household, in every region and for every community. But the government lacks the drive and ambition to make sure that everyone can get access to the internet and everyone that knows how to use it. And they have dragged their feet on protecting children from the dangers that are out there on the internet."

Ms Harman announced a consumer-friendly package of measures for the telecoms market which Labour will support in Government. These measures will help consumers benefit from competitive pricing and better services. The package covers:

  • Action to make switching easier across the market by moving to the practice of the new provider running the process for products such as mobiles packages, pay TV and multiple-product communications packages where this is not currently the case, as they are incentivised to make it happen more efficiently;
  • Strengthening Ofcom by ensuring that legal challenges to its decisions are not frustrated by the length of legal process nor by disproportionate costs;
  • Action on nuisance calls by making it easier to serve penalties on companies making them and making caller listing mandatory in most cases; and
  • Acting on the costs of mobile calls, and encouraging investment in 4G roll-out through amendments to the Electronic Communications Code as recommended by the Law Commission.

Greens fourth in latest YouGov polling

The Green Party has moved ahead of the Liberal Democrats in the latest YouGov polling for the Sun. In the latest poll, released late last night, the Greens are in fourth and up two percentage points to 7%.

The poll comes hot on the heels of an Ashcroft National Poll (ANP) last week, which also put the Greens in fourth and ahead of the junior Coalition partners. The ANP poll marked the first time in a decade that the Greens have out-performed the Lib Dems in a poll ahead of a General Election.

The Green Party’s average polling score with pollsters YouGov has risen by three percentage points in the last six months. On May 22 2014, the Greens comfortably outperformed the Lib Dems in the European parliament elections both in terms of total vote and MEPs returned.

The Green Party, the only party offering a genuine alternative to business-as-usual Westminster politics, has challenge the broadcasters’ proposals to exclude the Greens from the planned televised Leaders’ Debates ahead of the 2015 General Election. Almost 200,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the Greens to be invited.

Leading political commentators have suggested that polling which puts the Greens ahead of the Lib Dems puts pressure on the broadcasters to invite the Greens in the interest of both democracy and fairness. The polling surge is mirrored by the Green Party of England and Wales’ rapid membership growth in 2014.

Here's is how some of the key political commentators on Twitter reacted:

Patrick Wintour of the Telegraph "On day BBC tell Greens they cannot join TV debates due to lack of increase in support, YouGov put Greens ahead of Lib Dems for first time."

Owen Jones of the Guardian "Greens will be rightly chirpy about driving the Lib Dems into fifth place in the latest YouGov. Labour back to 3 point lead. Not good enough"

Tom Newton-Dunn from the Sun "YouGov/Sun poll tonight: Greens push Libs into 5th for 1st time with @YouGov - LAB 34%, CON 31%, UKIP 17%, GRN 7%, LD 6%. Yet no TV debate?"

George Eaton from the New Statesman: "Tonight's @YouGov poll has the Greens ahead of the Lib Dems for the first time (7%-6%)."

Sunny Hundal from Liberal Conspiracy "YouGov poll shows Greens pushing LDs into 5th place for first time LAB 34% CON 31% UKIP 17% GRN 7% LD 6% They should be in TV debates."

Jon Stone, formerly of Politics Home "YouGov becomes the second pollster to show the Green Party ahead of the Liberal Democrats - 7% vs 6%"

Prison deaths rise to highest level since records began

The number of people dying in prison has risen to its highest level since records began in 1978, figures seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today. Serious assaults on prison staff have soared by 54 per cent in two years, and prisoner-on-prisoner violence has also risen sharply. The 'safety in custody' statistics, published by the Ministry of Justice, provide yet more evidence that prisons have become more dangerous as they struggle to deal with staff cuts and chronic overcrowding.

The figures show that 235 prisoners died in the 12 months to the end of September 2014 - a 19 per cent increase on the previous year. Suicides rose by 38 per cent during the period - from 63 to 87. Self-harm rates among male prisoners have risen by 52 per cent since June 2005.

The number of assaults on prison staff rose by 12 per cent to 3,427 in the 12 months to the end of June 2014 - an average of more than nine assaults per day. Serious assaults accounted for 395 of these incidents - up from 300 during the previous year. There were three apparent homicides in prisons in the 12 months to the end of September 2014.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "Ministers must be held accountable for the decisions they make. The lethal cocktail of drastic staff cuts, introduction of spartan regimes as part of the incentives scheme, gross overcrowding and rising prison numbers are the cause of violence and self-injury.

"I have never seen a public service deteriorate so rapidly and so profoundly as has happened in prisons in the last year. Government policy is putting public servants and the public in danger. Ministers have responded by sticking their fingers in their ears and singing. That has to change."

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Parliament to hold first drugs debate for a generation

The UK’s drug laws will be debated in Parliament this week, for the first time in a generation. Earlier this year Caroline Lucas MP secured over 130,000 signatures on a petition calling for MPs to support an impact assessment and cost benefit analysis of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. She successfully secured the debate with cross-party backing. The three-hour Commons debate will take place on Thursday following a morning briefing.

UK drug laws are over 40 years old. In that time, there has been no Government assessment of whether they are effective or value for money. The debate is not about being for or against current drugs policy or drugs policy reform. It about supporting an evidence-based position: our drugs laws should reflect the latest evidence about how best to tackle drugs misuse and any associated social problems – but that’s currently not the case. The debate will support a Motion calling on the Government to conduct an independent cost-benefit analysis and impact assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 - the first of its kind. A copy of the Motion can be found here.

67% of the UK public support a review of drugs policy options. A 2012 UK Drugs Policy Commission study found that 77% of current MPs disagreed with the statement that current policies were effective in tackling the problems caused by illegal drugs. In the same study, 76% of current MPs agreed the process of making policy about illegal drugs should make more use of evidence and research than it currently does.

Caroline Lucas MP said: “We all want a drugs policy that works. We want policies that reduce drug-related deaths and protect our children. Policies that rid our communities of the harms associated with drugs misuse and which ensure individuals get the help and support they need. But if we’re to have a drugs policy that does all of these things, then it has to be based on evidence. This debate is not about being for or against drugs reform. It’s about making sure we have the best possible laws based on the best possible evidence. It is the responsibility of every MP to be there to represent their constituents.”

The debate has received strong cross-bench backing, as well as strong public support. In a video released last week, Richard Branson and Anne-Marie Cockburn called on constituents around the country to ask their MPs to attend the debate. Anne Marie’s daughter Martha was 15 when, out with friends one Saturday morning, she took ½ gram of ecstasy powder and died from an accidental overdose. Thursday’s debate marks what would have been Martha’s 17th birthday. Anne-Marie said: “I have spent many hours painstakingly deliberating about drug policy since my precious girl died. As policy remains unchanged I wake up every day with a fear that there will be another Martha. I want to appeal to you both directly and personally. The blight of drugs on our society is creeping inwards and many families are now directly affected.

"Whatever your views on this issue, I am sure that we can all agree that drug policy should be based on evidence of what works, and the only way to do that is to explore all the policy options. I understand that the drugs issue is a difficult one for MPs, but it is your job to ensure that our laws protect the most vulnerable. One death is one too many, so please attend the debate and please support a review.”

She also appealed to constituents to contact their MP regarding the debate. Niamh Eastwood, Executive Director of Release, said: “It is shocking to think that in over 40 years UK drugs legislation has never been subject to proper scrutiny; we have never examined the efficacy of a criminal justice approach, or even considered alternatives. This debate is a much needed step towards this goal and we hope that parliamentarians will support the call for an impact assessment, and recognise that our drugs laws must be evidence-based. Over 67% of the public think it is time for a review of our drug policy. It is high time politicians reflect the views of the electorate.”

Danny Kushlick, Head of External Affairs, and Martin Powell Acting Chief Executive of Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said: “Successive governments have fought tooth and nail to keep evidence about their drug policies from the public, suppressing report after report. Why? Because when UK drug policy is independently scrutinised the findings are invariably damning. It is surely not too much to ask that MPs – whose job it is to scrutinise issues like this – now back a thorough impact assessment of current policy, so our response to drugs can be based on evidence of what actually works, and will best keep the young and vulnerable safe.”

Mike Barton, Chief Constable, Durham Constabulary has said: “As a police officer for nearly 34 years, I have witnessed the worsening problems of drug addiction – whether it's to controlled substances or legal drugs, such as alcohol. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 has prevailed throughout my time of service, but it would appear not to have had the impact that optimistic legislators planned.”